Agriburbia in Rowan

10/13/10 by John Wear

We have an opportunity right in our own region to merge rural values with contemporary living — to grow our own food in an urban setting.

Initial zoning and development have been approved for the Farmstead, a tract of land on the western outskirts of Granite Quarry which combines urban farming and gardening with residential development. The idea is a noble effort to be more self-sufficient and sustainable.

If the idea catches on, it could mean that we’ll spend more time planting and tending gardens and less time mowing lawns. We have been tethered to our lawn mowers for a long time. The shift toward spending Saturdays mowing grass started around the turn of the century. Today in some neighborhoods, it has almost become a contest to see who has the best-kept lawn.

Keep in mind that grass is an exotic species in this area. It often requires pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer that can run off into our sewers, eventually polluting our streams. And gas-powered lawn mowers, especially older models, pollute the air.

Today, we focus a lot of our efforts on lawn upkeep when we could be creating opportunities for both feeding our families healthier food and helping our young people understand more about how they fit into the ecological cycle. They could help grow and pick vegetables and fruits, participating in an enterprise that benefits the family as a whole. They could learn about composting and creating organic gardens that produce nutritious food. And that, of course, would break the chain of having our vegetables trucked in from 1,500 miles away.

This combination of urban farming and residential development actually has a name. It’s called Agriburbia, and about 3,000 acres across the country are currently being designed and developed according to its principles.

The concept is the brainchild of Matthew “Quint” Redmond, co-founder of the Golden, Col.-based design firm TSR Group. He is going to speak at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 28. The title of his speech is “Agriburbia: Combining Neighborhood Design with our Growing Need to Produce our own Food.”

It’s a mindset bent on saving farming and feeding communities. It ensures that we will have food for our tables — tasty food — when oil becomes too expensive to ship food across the county. Re-integrating food production into residential development can mean anything from planting individual vegetable gardens to engaging in community agricultural projects. One of Redmond’s projects is a 618-acre tract with nearly 1,000 homes surrounded by 108 acres of backyard farms and 152 acres of drip-irrigated community farms.

Going back to the land while still maintaining all the amenities of contemporary living is one of the more appealing ways to help us move toward sustainability and self-sufficiency. I hope you’ll join us on Oct. 28 to learn more about Agriburbia and why it is a viable, environmentally friendly approach to living the good life.

Watch the video.

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Dr. John Wear is the founding director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College.

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